RaveThe GuardianNormal People, written in barely a year since her debut, is set mainly in the same shadowy, smoky, studenty Dublin, has the same witty dialogue and delicately observed play of often anxious feeling, and the same interludes of startlingly graphic, passionately intimate sex. It, too, is astonishingly fresh: in fact, when these books are shelved together in the future, it may seem that Normal People is the earlier work ... Normal People may not be about being young right now, but better than that, it shows what it is to be young and in love at any time. It may not be absolutely contemporary, but it is a future classic.
PanThe Guardian\"[The novel\'s] time shifts become progressively exhausting because both places are so crowded with characters and dialogue. It’s hectic, detailed, expository dialogue, too ... Unsheltered is researched as carefully as any Cather novel, but there is no space here: Kingsolver is so anxious to demonstrate and teach that neither characters nor story can breathe for themselves.\
MixedThe Guardian\"...there is a self-consciousness to all this, a riddling, hall-of-mirrors element that is the reverse of the radical humility of the first two books. And it creates, simply, distance. Faye keeps secrets from us now: where she is, what has happened in the – seemingly considerable – time that has passed since the last book...It feels like a betrayal, or a snub ... There are many remarkable moments in Kudos; it is a fine novel that deserves to receive – and probably will, given the limping nature of literary kudos – a heap of awards in recognition of the vast achievement of the trilogy. Nevertheless, I was sorry it ended here.\
PositiveThe GuardianOur new hero, Paul, places himself nearer the truth-telling memoirist Barnes than his fictional predecessor, the fascinatingly unreliable Tony Webster in The Sense of an Ending. Paul begins, as if in essay form, with a wide, philosophical question: \'Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more, or love the less, and suffer the less?\' He constantly keeps one eye on historical context, and is especially astute on architectural detail and the way money is spent; and he is always intent on making himself ordinary, a mere example of humanity. As such, he is anxiously alert not only to the problems of self-heroising, but its opposite: \'There is the danger of being retrospectively anti-heroic: making yourself out to have behaved worse than you actually did can be a form of self-praise\' ... All this means that the exquisite moments—and there are many—in The Only Story come from its psychological acuity, especially about how we remember. In Paul’s narrative, experiences deconstruct themselves and personalities decay in a devastatingly convincing way ... It all seems terribly sad, and horribly true: a definitive account of how romantic love becomes trapped in its own frame and empties itself of colour and meaning.
Susan Sontag, Ed. by Benjamin Taylor
MixedThe GuardianSontag, was not, though, as her editor Benjamin Taylor admits in the introduction to this gathering of stories from across her career, a committed short-story writer. She turned to the form in order to evade what Chekhov called ‘autobiographophobia’, which Taylor uses to mean the fear of writing and reflecting directly about one’s life … None of these pieces, though, is a short story in the Chekhovian sense — a narrative built on images and speech; a glimpse into a deeply imagined, apparently authentic world — because Sontag frees none of her characters. Rather, they are bent to her purposes, illustrations of a wider point … Sontag’s stories, in contrast, speak loudly and lengthily in her own grand voice, which sounds bombastic and antique.
Edward St. Aubyn
PositiveThe GuardianIn Lear, only Lear changes; everyone else stays two-dimensional, as frightful (Goneril and Regan) or virtuous (Cordelia) as they are at the start. St Aubyn chooses to maintain this intense, singular focus. His Lear is Henry Dunbar, the head of an international media cooperation – like Conrad Black or Rupert Murdoch – and is brilliantly awful ...other characters, even minor ones, are also wittily and cleverly updated ... St Aubyn has always been a surprising writer with the power to shock: here, we know the plot already, and clever though Dr Bob’s machinations are, we can never suspect that things will end well for him ... St Aubyn’s Dunbar, in contrast, simply recounts the tale of how painful it is when an old, powerful man loses everything. It’s still a sad story, but it is also a more limited one than this immensely talented writer can tell.
RaveThe GuardianThe pieces in the collection follow wayward, unnerving courses: each beginning in a place where we think we are comfortable, then taking us somewhere other ... None of these stories offers any redemption, personal or global: instead they say bluntly, insistently, in Hall’s smooth, clear prose, 'Look, this darkness is here' ... Great short stories are the shape of themselves: image, voice and plot dovetailed to the chosen form. Hall’s stories are vixen-shaped: urban and rural, feral and natural, female and stinky, beautiful and tough. Like Mrs Fox herself, they slide quietly into view and stare at us with their citrine eyes; exceptional, compelling, frightening and authentic.
MixedThe GuardianRather than turning human-sized stories into myths, Tóibín sets out to humanise the myths of the house of Atreus...all this results in a devastatingly human story … We don’t know this maybe-bronze-age, maybe-Homeric world at all, or how its society is supposed to work, and as Orestes wanders ever more confusingly over it, bumping occasionally into Goya-esque scenes of violence, we begin to wonder if Tóibín does either...There are irrigation schemes and settlements and slaves and guards and infinite supplies of food – where do they all come from, and where do they go? It starts to feel not so much mythic as random, or, worse, a bit CGI, a bit too close to Game of Thrones.
MixedThe GuardianThis alienation is very much of the literary moment. As the narrator wanders musingly around the portent-stuffed resort, you sometimes wonder if she is a pastiche of Lydia Davis taking a nasty holiday in a Deborah Levy novel. But it makes her miserable, unable to get on with her relationship with her new man, Yvan, who is by some distance the warmest and most natural character in the book. It also makes her a useless detective. In Greece, she can’t bear to ask direct questions, and even when a murder plot worthy of Inspector Montalbano lays itself out plainly before her ... In the end, Kitamura’s protagonist is a smart, accomplished, contemporary version of that ancient literary figure, the unreliable narrator ... A Separation leaves you intrigued, impressed, but also artfully irritated.
PositiveThe GuardianHer limpid, rhythmic prose, sumptuous with detail, isn’t exclusive to west coast towns: it can be aroused by all sorts of American landscapes provided they are past their best. Decay, both moral and corporal, is Moshfegh’s favourite trope and favourite subject ... Mould grows best in closed areas. The miserable towns and half-built apartment blocks provide part of this containment; maze-like plots the remainder. For Moshfegh’s protagonists often retain hopes of fulfilment, albeit generally of the vaguest sort, and powered by these, they set out on bizarre quests ... The conventional thriller shape of Eileen has brought Moshfegh money and popularity. On an artistic level, though, it also allowed some air and light into the dank leaf-mould of her imaginative world. At the end of this absorbing, exhausting and slippery volume, you may well find yourself longing for some of Eileen’s resolution, however conventional such a plot shape may be.
RaveThe Guardian[The fetus] sounds rather like Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s Lolita; the same grand, elegiac tone; the same infinite knowledge of history and English poetry, the same covetous, obsessively physical eye ... McEwan makes the story over into a brutally effective howdunnit, magnificently strong on the details of murder ... a consciously late, deliberately elegiac, masterpiece, a calling together of everything McEwan has learned and knows about his art.
RaveThe GuardianUnder its smooth, naturalistic surfaces, Exposure has a tightly wrought plot, gripping as any thriller. But it is the union of this plot with complex, challenging characters that makes the book such a surprising and fulfilling read ... As its first scene promises, it is a dream-like book, but not exactly a reverie: more like one of those visceral dreams bobbing with household objects and Freudian faces that will haunt you for months, if not years.
PositiveThe GuardianEdna O’Brien apparently researched this novel carefully: it shows in the variety of stories and range of reference and facts. It does not show, however, in authenticity of character and voice: these spring from her own vast experience and writerly imagination. None of the moments O’Brien adapts or borrows, even from Kafka and Shakespeare, is as piercing as the moments she invents herself.